Guest post: Into the Arctic – Nikon D800E field test

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Today Jonathan Björklund (websiteFacebook) will share his experiences shooting with the Nikon D800E in the Arctic (click on image for larger view):

Have you ever felt like being alone in the world, without communications and the comfort of our daily life? Well I have a word for you, the Arctic.

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Ever since I first set my foot up at Svalbard a couple of years ago, I have been longing to go back there. It is difficult to put into words, but there’s something about being so far up north. This winter I came across an ‘explore the east coast expedition’ and I just couldn’t hold it anymore, so I took the opportunity and booked both the trip and flight tickets. A few months earlier I got a hold on the new masterpiece D800e, and this trip to the arctic wilderness would really put up a challenge for my new baby.

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Finally arriving in the town of Longyearbyen we went through our equipment, and as soon as we’ve packed our snowmobiles we drove off into the ice-covered tundra. I have never driven a snowmobile before, and now I see why people enjoy it so much. Driving through an untouched landscape as majestic mountains and blue glaciers pass by is just breathtaking. Everything is white and all you left behind you is a small track which is soon to be covered with fresh snow.

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With interesting motives all around I can insure you that the camera shutter stayed warm although we had shifting temperatures of -10 to -15 degrees Celsius. Actually I was quite surprised. For 8 days filled with photography I only used five full battery charges, I had expected much higher battery drainage.

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The goal for the trip was at finding the Polar Bear, and we were lucky. The second night we reached our main goal, the east coast. And in a couple of minutes we had our first sighting, a mother with her cubs. They kept their distance and although this night didn’t bring any photos it was a good start on the trip. Looking for polar bears requires time, a good guide and especially a pair of good binoculars. And most of the days were spent looking for these amazing creatures. We had in total ten polar bear observations and a few of them came up quite close to us.

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My equipment on this trip was the D800e along with the 14-24/2.8, 70-200/2.8, 500/4, tele converters and a Sigma 50/1.4. And I must say, the D800e regardless lens, really performs. The autofocus is precise and the image quality is top notch. With its 36 MPix I have to think about motion blur a little bit more than with my D700, but it doesn’t take too long time to develop slightly small changes in the way you are capturing your pictures. I think you have to use your brain a little more working with the D800e, it is fun really thinking through how to make the best out of every situation.

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Our best Polar Bear sighting we had our last night. We had been working with a big male for a small hour before he walked up towards a hill. And as we were about to pack the scooters for our last trip back to Longyearbyen through the night, we saw a mother with her two cub running down a steep slope. It turned out that the big male tried to track her down, most probably to kill of the cubs.

So we are standing there watching the mother with her small ones with only hundred meters between us, running away from our direction, this great photo opportunity just disappearing in a matter of seconds. Watching them running away over the fjord we started to discuss our last trip home again. And as we’re about to start the motors we see that the mothers suddenly changes direction. She stops running and she and the cubs starts walking towards us. So we are standing there again just waiting to see what will happen. What’s happening next is maybe one of my greatest wildlife experiences ever. The mother and her two cubs get up to us as close as 40 meters before she stops and lies down. The small ones looks really exhausted and in the shelter of us people the three bears decided to rest for almost half an hour. It didn’t take long for the small one to recover and only a few minutes later they were already squabbling. This short moment felt like an eternity and when they finally walked away from us again we had to drive home to catch the flight back to mainland.

Do I really have to say that it won’t be long before I go back to Svalbard again!

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